Response of antelope bitterbrush to repeated prescribed burning in Central Oregon ponderosa pine forestsAuthor(s): Matt D. Busse; Gregg M. Riegel
Source: Forest Ecology and Management. 257(3): 904-910
Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
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Antelope bitterbrush is a dominant shrub in many interior ponderosa pine forests in the western United States. How it responds to prescribed fire is not well understood, yet is of considerable concern to wildlife and fire managers alike given its importance as a browse species and as a ladder fuel in these fire-prone forests. We quantified bitterbrush cover, density, and biomass in response to repeated burning in thinned ponderosa pine forests. Low- to moderate-intensity spring burning killed the majority of bitterbrush plants on replicate plots. Moderately rapid recovery of bitterbrush density and cover resulted from seedling recruitment plus limited basal sprouting. Repeated burning after 11 years impeded the recovery of the bitterbrush community. Post-fire seed germination following the repeated burns was 3-14-fold lower compared to the germination rate after the initial burns, while basal sprouting remained fairly minor. After 15 years, bitterbrush cover was 75-92% lower on repeated-burned compared to unburned plots. Only where localized tree mortality resulted in an open stand was bitterbrush recovery robust. By controlling bitterbrush abundance, repeated burning eliminated the potential for wildfire spread when simulated using a customized fire behavior model. The results suggest that repeated burning is a successful method to reduce the long-term fire risk imposed by bitterbrush as an understory ladder fuel in thinned pine stands. Balancing the need to limit fire risk yet provide adequate bitterbrush habitat for wildlife browse will likely require a mosaic pattern of burning at the landscape scale or a burning frequency well beyond 11 years to allow a bitterbrush seed crop to develop.
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CitationBusse, Matt D.; Riegel, Gregg M. 2009. Response of antelope bitterbrush to repeated prescribed burning in Central Oregon ponderosa pine forests. Forest Ecology and Management. 257(3): 904-910.
KeywordsPurshia tridentata, Mule deer habitat, Wildlife habitat, Fire risk, Wildfire
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